Travel vs Study Abroad – What’s the Difference?

Posted in study abroad with tags , , , on March 3, 2010 by Sarah McNitt

[From the March 2010 Miami University Study Abroad Newsletter]

It’s a great thing to be able to travel and see the world. But what sets it apart from study abroad?

First of all, the study aspect is the first thing to take into account. Study abroad has an academic component to it. It’s a great opportunity to take the classes you would have done in Oxford, and transfer them to a new setting where you may get more out of the experience. You could take an art history class that meets every week in the museum, or practice your language skills as soon as you leave the classroom where you studied it. It’s a great opportunity to live what you’re learning and see the practical application of the subjects you’re studying in the classroom. When you’re a tourist, you may see art, monuments and people without really understanding the story behind them.

Secondly, when you’re studying abroad, we want you to get out of the tourist experience and immerse yourself in the culture. If you’re spending a semester in another place, you’ll have opportunities to meet people, make friends, get involved in your host community, and get to know the culture on a deeper level than you could as a tourist. When tourists meet local people, they usually do so in a service capacity. They meet tour guides, bus drivers, waiters, hotel clerks and other people who are there to serve them. When you’re living with a host family, taking classes at a local university, volunteering in your host community or joining a local sports team, you have the opportunity to get to know people as peers, on the same level, and learn more about what they do and why, how they eat, how they celebrate and what their values are.

Sometimes, students come into our office who are more interested in the tourist experience than the academic, culturally-immersive study abroad experience. If you want to spend your summer backpacking around the world, grab your guidebook and go! But if you’re looking for a study abroad experience, you know where to find us.


Going it Alone: Testing and Gaining Independence

Posted in study abroad with tags , , on March 3, 2010 by Sarah McNitt

[From the December 2009 Miami University Study Abroad Newsletter]

We have a wide range of study abroad programs at Miami for students from every field of study, for students with varying language levels and for students with varying levels of comfort in a foreign culture. Some students are looking for an opportunity to go out on their own and are looking for a very independent experience, while other students need more support or want to incorporate some of the comforts of home.

When you’re going abroad, you’ll never be completely alone. There will be other students who are in the same boat as you. But who will those students be?

If you’re going on a Sponsored program like MUDEC, an FSB summer program or the faculty-led short-term programs, it’s likely that the majority of the people participating in the program with you will be other Miami students. One advantage of going on a Sponsored program is that when you come back to campus after your study abroad experience, your program-mates will be here on campus with you. You might be in classes together or decide to room together based on the experiences you had abroad.

If you participate in an Exchange program like ISEP or one of the FSB exchanges, your classmates may be mainly local students from your host culture, and fellow exchange participants from around the world. Depending on the program, you might be one of very few Americans, but there will be other students from other countries who are going through similar experiences.

If you study abroad on a Co-Sponsored or Approved program, you’ll be in a group with other American college students. Depending on the program, you might be the only Miami student, or there might be several others. These will be the students you meet at your orientation and who participate with you in the cultural activities and excursions provided by the program. Depending on the program and the arrangements you choose, you might also live with your fellow program members, take classes with them, do research with them and/or work on service-learning projects with them. Other programs integrate you into the local culture so that you only see your fellow Americans for special events and program-sponsored excursions.

Everyone has different interests and needs, and this is just one of the aspects of study abroad to take into account. Wherever you go, you’ll meet interesting new people and be confronted by new ideas, values and experiences!

Host Families

Posted in study abroad with tags , , on March 3, 2010 by Sarah McNitt

[From the October 2009 Miami University Study Abroad Newsletter]

Study abroad programs have several different housing options. Some place students in apartments with other American students, some house students in residence halls, and others will place students in homestays with a host family. Host families come in all shapes and sizes. Many students will live in a typical nuclear family of parents and young children, like Sarah did in Chile or Stephanie did in Japan. You might live with parents, grandparents and college-aged children, like Meghan is doing in Mexico. Or you might have a less predictable host family, like Anna did in Jordan, where she lived with three elderly sisters. Sometimes your “host family” might be one elderly woman, several generations of a family living together in one house, or a young couple with no children. In any case, you can learn a lot about the local culture and about how other families work. When you live in another country, you learn a lot about the cultural assumptions you take for granted (“Because we do it that way in America, I thought everyone ate pasta as a main course!”) and when you live within another family, you also learn about the personal assumptions you take for granted (“Because my family did it this way, I thought everyone‘s parents made the kids do their own laundry!”)

In some cases, the homestay is like a boardinghouse or landlord/renter situation, where you have your own detached apartment within their home and little day-to-day contact with the family. In others, you’re more integrated into daily life and take your meals with the family. Many host families have been taking in visiting students for years. I know that I was very anxious about making a bad impression on my host family, but relaxed a lot more when I realized they’d had 20+ American students over the past ten years, and they’d seen everything. They know that visiting American students will want to travel, will occasionally stay out late, and might forget to call to tell their host parents they won’t be home for dinner. If there are any serious conflicts between the student and the host family, the study abroad program will help mediate and, if necessary, move the student to a new situation.

If you’re going abroad to study a foreign language, a homestay is the best housing option for you. While learning a foreign language can be mentally exhausting, it’s even more exhausting if you’re switching back and forth between English and that language. If you’re immersed in the classroom and at home, you’ll start thinking in that language, rather than trying to mentally translate all the time, and that makes it much easier and less stressful! Even if language isn’t your main focus, a homestay is also a great way to casually learn about a society and what’s important to them. You’ll be included in family meals and learn about what and how people eat. You’ll be included in festivals and holidays and see how people celebrate. And you’ll see them in their down time to learn how people relax.

If a homestay is not an option in the location you’re looking at, the next best thing would be a residence hall or apartment setting where you’re living with local roommates or flatmates. That’s another way to get the “in” into local culture and a way to casually observe the way that the locals live, eat and celebrate.


Posted in Blog with tags on August 13, 2009 by Sarah McNitt

Well, I created this blog in order to have a WordPress login to use on other sites.  We’ll see if I actually use it for anything else!

If I commented on your blog and you’re wondering who I am:

I am Sarah McNitt, Study Abroad Advisor in Miami University‘s Office of International Education. In addition to maintaining the office website, I also write our Study Abroad Newsletter, maintain our Twitter account and contribute to our Facebook site.

For more information, check out my professional website.